Thursday, February 14, 2013

Radical Empathy

One of my favorite fraternity presidents and his sidekick used to stop by my office on almost a weekly basis to "debate" different merits of fraternity life. The conversation always wrapped up the same way. They would assert and I would ask, "Tell me what this has to do with Virtue, Diligence and Brotherly Love?" They would take turns each week rattling off how Brotherly Love is defined and make the connection. They would draw on their own experience to show me how their new idea would make us a stronger community. Brotherly Love was almost always their "go to", and this idea of caring for others has led me to truly examine the idea of Radical Empathy.

Radical Empathy is what I saw from those two men. A willingness to exhibit, "True friendship; When a brother gets knocked down, you're the first one to pick him up." (according to my former president) In that process, we share some of ourselves.

About 8 years ago, a friend called me crying and asked me to pray for her goddaughter who had drowned. I have followed her journey (and her families experience) ever since via their blog. From there I saw other blogs of people who were caring for loved ones that were ill or recovering. As I saw them (and 'met' them), I would add them to my blog reader. I suppose that, in a distant way, I was there so that they weren't struggling alone. These moments give me perspective. There are a lot of alone people out there in our world. Another time, I was leading a train-the-trainers type session and was modeling how to execute an experiential activity. In that moment, I revealed to the group one of the ugliest parts of my story. I had assumed others had shared in that same experience. I stood alone, filled with embarrassment and shame, regret at having shared. This moment gave me perspective. There is power in knowing who you are, and a beauty in realizing that all of us have some "ugly" that made us who we are today. Those moments opened my eyes to be able to connect, share, be more aware of who I am. With that awareness, I am able to show greater empathy and understanding to those around me.

I received this book for my birthday this year from a wonderful friend...
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, came alive for me in the Introduction. While reading these excerpts from an advice columnist named "Dear Sugar", I experienced her work around Radical Empathy. As I turned the pages, Dear Sugar pulled me into her world of do-overs and real talk. She addressed each letter to her with a genuine care and interest, but more importantly, with a Radical Empathy that communicates "I understand". As I consider the perspective I've been given, this is how I want to live. The writer of the introduction shares about Dear Sugar, "...she's offering something almost unheard of in our culture: Radical Empathy. People come to her in real pain and she ministers to them, by telling stories about her own life, the particular ways in which she's felt thwarted and lost, and how she got found again."

You, my fraternity and sorority friends, may be wondering - what does this have to do with our experience? I see this concept to be at the core of community. Take a moment and give yourself a report card on Radical Empathy. Take two moments and give your organization a grade. How did you do? Did you really care enough to sit down, truly listen and share a piece of your story with another? Did you go beyond, "I hear you" and move to "I am in it with you"? Is that idea of "brotherly love" yours?

Finally, as members, are we keeping perspective? When things happen, are you pausing and taking them in so that when the next thing occurs, you have perspective and something to share? We each have a story, a series of experiences that allows us to access deep places of connection with others. Because I naturally find people interesting, I am curious about them and seek that connection. When I ask questions and hear their story, I want Radical Empathy to be my response.

tiny beautiful things by Cheryl Strayed

1 comment:

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